Driven by the Story: A Love Letter to Single Player Games

I play games for the story.  The idea of experiencing a new world, with new characters, and variable relationships drives me to keep playing.  I need to know what happens next.

I celebrated my 27th birthday last week.  It felt like Microsoft was celebrating with me when they released original Xbox games on the Xbox One.  I realized just how old I was when I booted up Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, remembering the first time I played that game, in 2003, nearly 14 years ago.

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The story in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best in any medium.  Playing the game again, I thought to myself, how would this game would fair in today’s market.  KotOR is a single player role playing game set thousands of years before the movie trilogies.  The game has many modern conventions, such as full voice acting, customizable characters (including the choice between male and female avatars), side quests, Pazaak (a collectible card game,) and alternate endings based on player choice.

Unlike modern games, Knights does not require any connection to the internet.  I played this game on my original Xbox when I moved into my first apartment without internet.  I played KotOR on a long trip in the airport and on the plane on my laptop.  And now I can play the game on my Xbox One even when my internet connection goes down.  Side note:  yes I probably own 4-5 copies of this game.

Why do I keep coming back to this game?  The graphics are outdated.  The save system is finicky. The combat is more random than predictable.  Nevertheless, I love the story.

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The character progression from the first act to the final boss fight feels so good.  Every time I play the game I can make different choices for the character.  I can always explore another nook to find something new.  I always feel a great sense of closure when the credits roll.  It’s that amazing feeling of finishing a good book, like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders when you finally understand the story in it’s entirety.

I worry about the story telling in modern games.  Recent articles have explored the potential death of the single player genre within video games.  The persistent multiplayer populated worlds of today require always connected servers, constant updates, and sometimes timed exclusive events.  The World of Warcraft story and experience is completely different today compared to a decade ago.  Yet more and more games are going down the road of constant connectivity.

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How will these games hold up ten years from now?  Will they still be playable without constant updates?  Will they be fun without regularly scheduled events and seasons?  Can I still progress through the world without the help of a community of gamers?  So many games today are built around these systems that are designed to keep players engaged for long periods of time.

Modern games do not give me the same feeling of accomplishment as the classics, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  After completing the story in Destiny 2, I felt a new weight on my shoulders as the compulsion to gather better equipment mounts.  Multiplayer-centric games like Rainbow Six: Siege and Star Wars Battlefront II ask me to keep playing for better ranks and potential loot drops.

In loot progression games, I am no longer playing the game to find out what happens next.  Twenty years from now these games will be unrecognizable and most likely unplayable when the servers shut down.

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How long before you see this message?

Yet the single player genre’s heart is still beating.  For my birthday I bought myself the aforementioned Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dead Rising 4, South Park: The Fracture But Whole, The Evil Within 2, Cuphead, Super Mario Odyssey, and Stardew Valley.  I have a lot to play.

Games like The Witcher 3, Mass Effect, and The Last of Us have been named some of the greatest games of all time.  Studios like Sony, Bethesda, and Nintendo continue to create amazing single player experiences.  With the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, single player games are still releasing regularly and at a high quality.

Super-Mario-Odyssey

These stories make me laugh, make me think, and make me fear the unknown.  These stories expand the way I look at they world by experiencing the tales of their protagonists.  Twenty-seven years from now I would like to go back and experience the world of Star Wars: The Old Republic again, for there is nothing like returning to a familiar place to see how you yourself have changed.

-Jake

 

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